Summary: With cultural Christianity being the norm in America, nominal faith is what people see most often, and it’s what comes to mind when we tell people we’re a Christian. So, what is a "real" Christian? This message points out five traits.
I wish to begin our message this morning by sharing a story by Franklin Graham. He tells us, “Some years ago, I was in a cab when I asked the driver about his faith. He replied that he was a Christian, and I asked him how he became one. I’ll never forget his reply: ‘Oh, I was born a Christian’.” Graham continues to say, “People often use the term ‘Christian’ as simply a category for describing someone’s cultural, religious, or family heritage. Other people believe that a person is a Christian because he or she attends church or was raised in a godly home. For still others, the term ‘Christian’ is no more than a box to check off on an application or survey form.”(1)
A report from LifeWay Facts and Trends tells of a survey conducted asking believers to give their opinion on what it means to be a Christian. The survey was comprised of guided questions, but at the end people were allowed to share their own thoughts. “15 percent volunteered some form of following the golden rule, while 13 percent said trust or belief in God, and [only] 11 percent said salvation through Jesus.”(2) This apparent lack of spiritual understanding reveals the prevalence of cultural Christianity in America.
The website GotQuestions.org says, “A ‘cultural Christian’ is a nominal believer. He wears the label ‘Christian,’ but the label has more to do with his family background and upbringing than any personal conviction that Jesus is Lord. [In] cultural Christianity . . . the gospel is often presented as a costless addition to one’s life: just add churchgoing to your hobbies, add charitable giving to your list of good deeds, or add the cross to the trophies on your mantle. In this way, many people go through the motions of ‘accepting Jesus’ with no accompanying surrender to His lordship.”(3)
With cultural Christianity being the norm here in America – especially in the Bible-belt of the south – nominal faith is what people see most often, and it’s what comes to mind when we tell people we’re a Christian. So, when we share our faith we run into some problems. People will reason, “I’m a Christian, because I go to church” (meaning Christmas and Easter), and “I’m a good person.” On the other side they’ll say, “Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. They say they believe this or that, but then they don’t live it.” Both responses are the tragic result of cultural Christianity, which is a false representation of our faith. So, what is a Christian, really? Well, let’s see if we can find out as we look at our passage.
Primary Text: 1 Peter 4:1-5, 14-19
1 Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles – when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. 5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead . . .
14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
What Does the Word Christian Mean?
Let’s look at verse 16 for a moment and then we’ll come back to the other verses. Here, we encounter the term “Christian,” the word by which believers today identify themselves. In researching this word, I learned some new things. First, I’ve been taught all my life that the word Christian means “little Christ,” and that we’re supposed to model Jesus in such a way that people see Christ in us. This information is true and makes a good point; however, the Greek term Christianos also means, “like the Anointed,” or “follower of the Anointed.”(4) Not only are we to be “like the Anointed” as little Christs, but we are to “follow” Him; or rather, be fully committed to Him.